Horror & Dark Fantasy

Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017

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Nonfiction

Author Spotlight: Martin Cahill

What inspired “It Was Never the Fire”?

“It Was Never the Fire” started off with an image of a boy eating smoke. I knew in my gut that that was all he ate, and if he ever ate anything else, he wasn’t going to show me. I knew he had secrets, and I knew he wasn’t going to tell just anyone, probably not even me. In fact, he wasn’t telling me much at all. You know how characters can be. But the narrator, he was telling me all sorts of things. Over time, Smokey and the narrator bounced back and forth against each other, to the point where I knew enough about them to start their story. Working with that, and exploring ideas of eternity, resurrection, religion, faith and family, it all sort of went into the story pot. Cook for a few months, let cool, get feedback, edit as needed, and we have “It Was Never The Fire.”

What’s your creative process like? How did this story develop over the course of writing and revision?

Creative process, oh man . . . Varied, kinetic, angsty, wild, nitpicky, a blur? Some or all or none of those, depending on the day. It really is different story by story, though there are practices that carry over with each project. With this one, it was written piecemeal, a section at a time. Once it was done, (and this is something I actually am pretty consistent on), I put it away for a while. I’ll let a finished story sleep while I shake it out of my system (which, as a side note, took a lot longer than usual. Smokey is a passionate, intense, and complicated guy. Took a while to flush him from my Writer Brain).

I work on something else for a week or two so I can come back at the completed story fresh. Once I come back to it, I do an editing pass, and I look for consistency issues. I’m still too close to it at that point, which is why I then shoot the story out to some readers I trust, who’ll bring up any major errors that I didn’t see the first time.

With “It Was Never The Fire,” I actually had the opportunity to have it read and critiqued by kick-ass author, Kat Howard, (who is phenomenal and a wonderful mentor for anyone looking to make their writing stronger). She came back with a lot of great thoughts about what the story needed to be the strongest it could be. I used what she told me, did another draft, sent it in, and the rest is history.

You have both a day job as a bookseller and a night job bartending. These seem like excellent occupations for writers, but how do you fit writing into your busy life?

And I seem to have picked up a third job in the meantime! Yeah, they’re all great jobs as a writer. Anything that gets you out of the house and into the sunlight among your fellow man is a great job. Writing alone in the dark with you and the characters in your head can be fine in twenty-four to forty-eight hour increments. But at some point, you need to leave the cave, and, y’know, walk among the people.

As for fitting writing into my schedule, it can be tough. You have to make the time. I have a lot of late nights, a lot of early mornings, just trying to work around my many schedules. You steal an hour here or there, typing notes on your phone, or outlining on napkins behind the bar. I’ve even started writing on my morning commute, scrunched up next to strangers, typing away on my way to the Port Authority. It’s not easy, and it’s not ideal, but I try to find the time every way I can. You have to.

Your Twitter handle is @McFlyCahill90. Back to the Future fan?

Absolutely! I believe that as every young mind must read To Kill a Mockingbird or Walden or Macbeth, so should Back to the Future be viewed at least three times before you’ve graduated high school, and then at least once a year, every year after. It’s one of the most logically, internally consistent, well-written time travel movies made, and I’m still in love with it to this day. Plus, it gives me a handy nickname.

(And I know what you’re thinking, so let’s tackle this head on: Back to the Future Part II is also pretty good, and actually tackles time paradoxes head on, which I find ballsy and rewarding, and while Back to the Future Part III is considered the lame duck of the bunch, it’s still way better than some of the schlock they’re trying to sell to us at the theatres nowadays. Plus, time train? I’m on board.)

“It Was Never the Fire” was your second professional fiction sale. (Congratulations!) What other work do you have out now or forthcoming, and what are you working on?

Thanks so much! It’s been exciting. I have a story coming out with Fireside Fiction in their May issue, a sweet little story about the end of the world. Aside from that, I’m shopping some short fiction around, trying to find it a home, and working on a bunch of other short fiction in my spare time. I’m also working on a few epic fantasy novels, and drafting this madcap, shared universe sort of thing. So hopefully, I can have a first draft of one in a few months! (And please, for those reading this, feel free to remind me of this at any time. It will simultaneously motivate me and shame me into finishing it.)

Thanks for having me on the site, and thank you to everyone who read “It Was Never the Fire.” Time is one thing readers never have enough of, so thank you for giving me some of your time.

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E.C. Myers

E.C. Myers

E.C. Myers was assembled in the U.S. from Korean and German parts and raised by a single mother and the public library in Yonkers, New York. He is the author of numerous short stories and three young adult books: the Andre Norton Award–winning Fair Coin, Quantum Coin, and The Silence of Six. His next novel, Against All Silence, a thriller about teenage hacktivists investigating a vast conspiracy, is scheduled to appear next spring from Adaptive Books. E.C. currently lives with his wife, son, and three doofy pets in Pennsylvania. You can find traces of him all over the internet, but especially at ecmyers.net and on Twitter @ecmyers.